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4.1 out of 5 stars
Night Soldiers
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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on 4 January 2010
Furst is a wonderful novelist within the espionage genre, different in approach to any others I have come across. You could say the plot is labyrinthine except that it could be argued the book is virtually plotless, written from the point of view of the protagonists who, of course, don't know much about what's going on. It's not the case of the writer developing an elaborate scenario which is sorted out one way or another towards the end - there usually is no such resolution in Furst's books; it is more like a painter dabbing tentatively at the canvas, occasionally doing something figurative and then disappearing into the abstract. A person sits in a cafe, catches the eye of someone else, is worried that he is being watched; this fleeting episode is never mentioned again and the reader, any more than the character, doesn't know at the end of the book whether it has been relevant to subsequent events. Uncertainty is not just the experience of the characters but the organising principle of the writing. To this is added a profoundly evocative treatment of pre-war and wartime Europe bolstered by reference to actual events and people and their refraction through the experience of individual characters.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 2 November 2014
Night Soldiers is the first in Alan Furst’s series of espionage novels that take place in 1930s and 40s Europe. It’s an ambitious book charting the adventures of Khristo Stoianev between 1934 through to 1945, starting with the death of his younger brother, killed by Bulgarian fascists, and his recruitment by a Russian agent. The story then switches to his training by the NKVD in Moscow, followed by a posting in Spain, then flight to pre-war Paris, followed by his war years. Criss-crossing Europe and playing games with soldiers, spies, and others, Khristo lives a life full of incident whilst trying to stay in the shadows. Furst is an excellent storyteller and the narrative is expressive and engaging throughout, and full of historical detail. The characterisation is well realised, with some very nice interactions and points of departure and reconnection across the story. The first half of the tale, up to Khristo’s time in Paris is excellent, being tight in focus and absorbing. The second half, however, is much less convincing, with the storyline becoming stretched and thin in places and the denouement fanciful. The story in the end became too expansive and reliant on unlikely threads and connections. Nonetheless, Night Soldiers is a very good read, full of intrigue, adventure, friendship and dark encounters.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 27 December 2007
Nobody does 30s and 40s gloom and grime quite like Alan Furst. The period detail is wonderful. My only regret is that so many linguistic howlers have slipped through; I can't speak for the Bulgarian or Romanian extracts, but I would not have expected an author with AF's background to make so many mistakes in French and Spanish.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 25 May 2012
I've just recently discovered Alan Furst and I'm reading his novels avidly. My criticism is that they can be a bit episodic, without a strong overall narrative strand to link the episodes together. That's particularly the case here - though it is his first novel I think and he got better at structuring his novels more tightly later on. So "Night Soldiers" does go on a bit too long and it does slightly strain credulity that Khristo would have had quite so many adventures in quite so many countries. But Furst creates atmosphere so well and writes so beautifully that he is just a joy to read, faults and all. To open one of his books is to be instantly transported to murky Paris backstreets or rainy alleys in Prague with a Gestapo or NKVD agent lurking in the shadows. The books seem thoroughly researched but he's good at avoiding just dropping gobs of research on the page. Again I think he gets better at this as his novel writing develops - in Night Soldiers he does go on a bit about Sten gun technology and the like. I would regard myself as reasonably knowledgeable about the era though no expert and maybe that's a good thing - if you've got so up yourself that you can't read on because Furst has got some obscure detail about the Spanish Civil War or the whereabouts of the Bulgarian-Romanian border wrong then that's a pity - it's a work of fiction people !!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 27 July 2010
I understand this was one of the early Alan Furst novels and I loved it. Spanish civil war Pre war Eastern Europe and a principal character of Khristi Stoianev who endures through some of the worst of times. A great book which one could visualise as one read it. A sort of smoky misty pre war where the bright young things dance and play as Europe runs headlong towards destruction .If the Chinese curse is to live in interesting times Khristo Stoianev does just that and introduces us to a fabulous cast of supporting characters. It has renewed my faith in Alan Furst maybe I should read more of the early books.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on 7 August 2009
This was my first Alan Furst book and I cannot recommend it highly enough. I often found myself pausing for breath - it truly is incredible and inspiring to imagine what life was like for many in the run up to and during the Second World War.

It's hugely ambitious - it covers a wide landscape and time period - but never loses its way. I know that some people have complained about a few histocial inaccuracies, but unless you are seriously well informed, I promise you it will not spoil your enjoyment of this book.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on 8 October 2004
No one manages to get period detail down quite like Furst. His sense of color, ambience, time and place are simply exquisite. And, he's a master of the well told tale. Highly recommended. If you're looking for another good spy yarn, try Assassin by newcomer Ted Bell.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on 22 October 2001
Furst is a master story-teller and he has an excellent ability to convey time, place and the political realities of the period.. wrong to say that Furst gets his history wrong about the POUM-- Furst makes at least two references its Trostkyist direction.
And even if inaccuracies do creep in, the overall impression is gripping. I have read four of his novels in the last two months, I just can't get enough.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon 30 January 2011
The details of this story of 1930/40's espionage have been ably set out by others. Khristo Stoianev and his Eastern European cohorts are portrayed as pawns in the spying game symbolized by the chess piece he carries as a sort of lucky charm.

The book did not grip me. It read more as the findings of a research project than as an outstanding novel. The minute detail of local politics, geography and actual events was often distracting. The decision to split into four major chunks did not work. There were many set-pieces which would have benefited from a natural chapter break.

The book is laudable, educational and describes a rarely covered broad canvas of European history from a different political perspective. However, it was rather earnest and did not thrill - but then again maybe Mr Furst never intended it to. A worthy and rewarding book.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on 18 May 2001
The first and, in my opinion, possibly best of Furst's novels. The author encapsulates the oppressive atmosphere of mainland Europe in the 1930s and the brutality and evil of facism and communism vividly. The story of the "hero"s fight for survival from these twin ogres is totally engrossing. Will appeal to anyone who enjoys well written thrillers and has an interest in the history of this period.
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